Fighting for Gender Parity in Dance Music with Lady Of The House

We interview Lady Of The House founder Laila Mckenzie to learn how inspiring the next generation to think about how they can achieve their ambitions in electronic music is at the very heart of this forward-thinking organisation.

19 min
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May 15, 2023
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By
Cameron Holbrook

Officially launched in 2020, the UK-based organization Lady Of The House was first introduced to the world via an epic, large-scale hardback book that celebrates over 150 women DJs, Producers, Artists, Promoters, and Management who have made a lasting impact on the global dance music scene.

Since its publication, however, Lady Of The House has shown us that they are much more than a book — they are a community and multifunctional platform that strives to champion and empower women in the music industry far and wide. In addition to organizing exhibitions, discussions, and showcases at conferences and festivals worldwide, LOTH has established a music label to serve as a pipeline for emerging talent — giving female and non-binary artists an outlet and a network of music industry experts.

Lady Of The House is wholly committed to ensuring that women who work in dance music receive the recognition they deserve. As proof of this, LOTH has just launched as a Community Interest Company (CIC) — with plans to roll out a whole host of coaching, mentoring, training, advice, and support programs/workshops for non-binary and gender-marginalized people in the music business.

We caught up with Lady Of The House founder Laila Mckenzie to learn more about LOTH’s origin story, what this change means for her community, and their commitment to strengthening the voices of music industry professionals who are marginalized or discriminated against.

Lady Of The House were one of the three co-recipients of The Beatport Group’s $100,000 Gender Parity Initiative back in 2022. Learn more here.

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Before founding Lady Of The House in 2020, you’ve been working in music for over 20 years as an experienced music events manager, promoter, and marketing consultant. Can you tell us more about your career to date and what inspired you to launch Lady Of The House?

I started working in this industry when I was 16, working in nightclubs collecting glasses, and have gone on to work my way up – as you said – through event management, promoter, co-author of a book, consultant and beyond – throughout my career I’ve seen such a lack of representation – The music we promote and the industry driven by it, came from black people, LGBTQIA+ people, women & Latinos. I’ve faced barriers and it’s been exhausting. It shouldn’t be that way because that’s not the way it started. I had to work harder than my male, white, middle-class counterparts.

That’s why I’m doing what I do so that hopefully it can inspire other people to start studying who the pioneering people are and also might inspire the next generation to believe that they too can make it. I want this to go beyond dance music, it’s already become a movement in dance music in the sense that everyone is talking about the history and legacy.

I want to take it one step further which is reaching young people who are leaving secondary education to think about their next steps of career progression. As a mother especially, I want young women to understand that there are many roles in the music industry aside from being a performer. There are lots of opportunities that people might think aren’t for women or for people from marginlised backgrounds. I want to show that lots of us do these jobs, and lots of us can do it.

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The large-scale hardback book Lady Of The House — Stories Of Women In Dance Music, is an invaluable record of the evolution of dance music and women’s central role within it, with over 150 women sharing their stories and experiences. How did you first develop the idea behind this book, and how long did it take to execute its publication?

There are so many amazing women, especially black and brown women who are the voices of dance music for example Jocelyn Brown, Barbara Tucker, Ultra Naté, Candi Staton etc. All these women are mentioned in our book [Lady of the House – Stories of Women In Dance Music]. Their careers might not be recognised by the general public but the general public has heard their work. It all started life as the first-ever book of its kind, telling the stories of 150 pioneering women in the music industry, such as Sarah Story, Nicole Moudaber, Charlotte de Witte, Nina Kraviz, Syreeta, DJ Rap, Roisin Murphy, and many more, with a special foreword from Carl Cox. Since its release in 2020, Lady Of The House has reached over 300 million people holding discussions and showcases on conferences and festivals worldwide. Including International Music Summit with dynamic talent TSHA & Radio1s Sarah Story, activating with global brands such as Redbull, Defected, Foucsrite, Pioneer DJ and Spinnin’ Records. Featuring in the V&A exhibition “Night Fever: Designing Club Culture,” holding our own cultural exhibition, which featured over 40+ people, including Eats Everything, Sita Abellán, CICI, and Barbara Tucker. From hosting Boomtowns mainstage with a showcase featuring Radio1’s Melle Browne, a Bestival takeover, a club tour featuring Arielle Free, and a whole bunch of grassroots artists.

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Last year, Lady Of The House also created its very own record label with A&R help from Jaguar, Charlie Tee, Sam Divine, and Becky Hill. Can you tell us a bit more about that?

Despite major record labels being more than keen to sign women artists and producers in an attempt to better level the playing field for women in the music business, the fact is they’re struggling to do so. Current data enforces the fact that there’s an extremely small percentage of women working in the music industry lagging far behind their male counterparts with female artists in the chart stagnant at 21%, with only 12.7% of women songwriters and producers coming in at less than 3%.

Lady Of The House Recordings was announced on May 26, 2022. To turn the system on its head, we launched a six-week-long competition for women and non-binary producers to submit a track, which could be from any electronic music genre. We smashed the glass ceiling with over 350 demos submitted by women and non-binary people. “Showing there’s a huge talent pool out there waiting to be untapped. The label’s aim is shining a light on the best electronic music talent. Our competition has proved that there are women producers in abundance out there and that we just have to spend the time to invest in them and nurture them more through the different stages leading up to a release. Using peer-to-peer support such as we do is proving to be hugely inclusive, and we’re blessed that it’s genuine and comes from the heart.

The competition was judged by four Lady Of The House “Godmothers” – BRIT Best Dance Act Becky Hill; BBC Radio 1’s Charlie Tee; BBC Radio 1’s Jaguar; and Defected Sam Divine. These powerhouse women acted as A&Rs throughout the process using their expertise to help guide the label in the right direction! The competition received an amazing response – with those producers feeling like they had an access point to the industry! We have since released 15 singles with over 5 million streams worldwide.

As of today, Lady Of The House is launching as a Community Interest Company (CIC) — a special type of limited company which exists to benefit the community rather than private shareholders. With the launch of the Lady Of The House Worldwide CIC, what are some of its new goals and intentions moving forward?

Being a CIC-structured organisation allows us to focus our specific goals, values, and needs of the grassroots and emerging talent within our community. We will operate with a clear social mission in which the CIC provides a framework for our community to establish long-term sustainability through a clear and monitored plan of action. Any surplus income generated must be injected back into the community and the broader mission, supporting initiatives such as workshops, mentorship programs, networking events, or educational resources for all women in music. By establishing a CIC, LOTH aims to have a positive social impact on the electronic music industry whilst also providing a formal legal structure for the community, offering clear governance and accountability mechanisms. This structure enhances credibility and transparency, which is great for our partners and sponsors, who can clearly see how much their essential support impacts our community.

Our framework will exist through the engagement of other agencies, organisations, and individuals to form working partnerships to provide a programme of coaching, mentoring, training, advice, and support for women, non-binary, and gender marginalized people to progress their careers in music through workshops, one to one sessions, subscription services, online platforms, events, conferences, and signposting.

We will encourage the Promotion of our community’s music through music recordings, marketing, events, and showcasing talent, as well as promotion of the community’s skill set and the contribution they make to the music industry through storytelling, books, documentaries, awards, and PR.

We want to uplift industry service development by liaising with key stakeholders to identify service and support needs for this underrepresented community within music. We will support the sector in achieving gender parity through consultancy, research, and awareness campaigns.

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Can you introduce some of the new key hires you’ve made to help further develop this CIC?

Our Lady Of The House advisory board members Lynn Cosgrove, Bentleigh Burgess, Maria May, and newly appointed Joanne Cox-Brown have provided their utmost support and guidance for LOTH through their combined decades of experience and incredible ongoing work in the industry, supporting me in taking the business to the exciting stage we are at now.

This time of expansion for LOTH has necessitated the growth of our team, and we are delighted to announce the key new hire of a General Manager.

Cat Hooper will lead the team through the strategic expansion period of augmentation for LOTH, bringing her years of expertise in Senior Corporate Management to the table. Cat has a strong demonstrated history of leading a variety of businesses and hyper-growth startups through to scale, such as the world-famous Tepilo and more, over the past three decades. Also a celebrated producer, promoter, and a DJ herself, her impressive commercial acumen and experience is teamed with her passion for music and women in our industry. She will develop and build out the strategic vision for the initiative whilst ensuring long-term sustainability for our brand.

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What new projects, records, and/or initiatives can we expect to see from Lady Of The House later this year?

With the new team in place and the launch of the CIC this is Lady Of The House’s most exciting year this far. We announced our partnership with Space Miami in Women’s History Month, kicking off with a Miami Music Week activation alongside HoneyLuv, Manda Moor, Joplyn, Chelina Manuhutu, and the appointment of our first Stateside Ambassador: the powerhouse Ms. Mada — Resident & Booking Director of Space Miami. This is to kick off our USA rollout, and we have some very exciting announcements about the development of the initiative across the pond, so keep an eye out over the upcoming weeks for announcements.

We have events and activities across Europe and the UK which will see the Lady Of The House Community reach expand and make lots of connections this year off the back of IMS.

We will be releasing tracks from incredible talent through the label and scouting with a new cohort of A&R’s to be announced soon. We will also be developing our publishing arm of the label. The CIC will focus on developing our emerging and grassroots talent and education workshops within our community with our artist accelerator progam. We will also be developing a new volume of the book to be published in the future, alongside releasing a special edition of the currently sold-out one. Internally we have a sharp focus on further developing our strategy for the organastion and looking to build out our board by diversifying it further, working with key leading organstions across multiple sectors.

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Finally, how would you describe the community that you’ve built around Lady Of The House?

Our manifesto at Lady Of The House is to celebrate, champion and honour women in dance music and beyond.

We celebrate by shouting about their successes and achievements, giving the deserved respect and credit to women who were not being publicly celebrated for their work and impact on Dance Music. A key example of how we celebrate is the book and the amazing success stories featured within its pages. Celebrating is our first and most important pillar by celebrating the achievements we make as women and non-binary people and recognising/crediting their efforts which increase the confidence and general well-being of our community leading to more positive output and further visibility. This is a blueprint for future generations so they can look to the success of their predecessors and have role models who will inspire and motivate them.

You can sign up for a copy of the next run of our book by visiting www.ladyofthehouse.org.uk and joining our mailing list to be notified when the next run is out.

We champion by releasing music on our label to give talent the platform it deserves. We do it by speaking publicly on panels and through our exhibitions on what we can do to ensure the industry as a whole champions, celebrates, and honour women. We do it by educational access, masterclasses, and exhibits – to show young women that a career in music, DJ’ing, production, management, technician, production, and beyond ARE a viable career choice for all genders. This is all about education and support, and with our partners and sponsors and the hard work of our team and board, our community is now spreading worldwide.

We honour this by ensuring we strengthen the voices of the marglisned or discriminated against. At the end of last year, we provided evidence on behalf of our community to Parliament for The Women’s Equalities Committee Misogny in Music Inquiry. The inquiry aimed to examine what misogynistic attitudes exist in the industry and why. It aimed to uncover, in more detail, how these attitudes can filter through to society, impacting attitudes towards and treatment of women and girls, including at live music events. Authentically acknowledging the challenges and struggles that we face whilst working towards finding solutions and openly discussing these give hope that the changes that we need to see for a brighter future are on the horizon.

You can support Lady Of The House CIC to keep its mission to Celebrate, Champion, and Honour Women in Dance Music by donating to their crowdfunding campaign.

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